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UK gov rushes through emergency law on data retention

Cameron: 'The consequences of not acting are grave'

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Emergency law is expected within days to be pushed through Parliament that will force ISPs to retain customer data to allow spooks to continue to spy on Brits' internet and telephone activity, after existing powers were recently ruled invalid by the European Union's highest court.

The planned legislation crucially has cross-party support from both Tory and LibDem leaders of the Coalition government, as well as Labour.

It comes after the European Court of Justice ruled in April that telecoms' companies were no longer required to log communications info on their subscribers for up to 12 months under the Data Retention Directive.

The government said that the emergency Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill was necessary to protect existing interception capabilities.

Downing Street warned in a statement:

Unless they have a business reason to hold this data, internet and phone companies will start deleting [comms data] which has serious consequences for investigations – investigations which can take many months and which rely on retrospectively accessing data for evidential purposes.

Secondly, some companies are calling for a clearer legal framework to underpin their cooperation with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to intercept what terrorists and serious criminals are saying to each other. This is the ability to access content with a warrant signed by a Secretary of State.

Both of these issues have left the UK Government with an urgent need to bring forward emergency legislation.

Number 10 promised to "respond to the ECJ judgment on data retention and bring clarity to existing law in response to CSPs’ requests."

New measures will be brought in, Downing Street added, to "increase transparency and oversight" under the proposed law.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

The ability to access information about communications and intercept the communications of dangerous individuals is essential to fight the threat from criminals and terrorists targeting the UK.

No government introduces fast track legislation lightly. But the consequences of not acting are grave.

I want to be very clear that we are not introducing new powers or capabilities – that is not for this Parliament. This is about restoring two vital measures ensuring that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies maintain the right tools to keep us all safe.

Deputy PM and LibDem leader Nick Clegg added: "We know the consequences of not acting are serious, but this urgency will not be used as an excuse for more powers, or for a ‘snooper’s charter’."

The government explained:

  • The Bill includes a termination clause that ensures the legislation falls at the end of 2016 and the next government is forced to look again at these powers.
  • Between now and 2016 we will hold a full view of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, to make recommendations for how it could be reformed and updated.
  • We will appoint a senior diplomat to lead discussions with the American government and the internet companies to establish a new international agreement for sharing data between legal jurisdictions.
  • We will establish a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board on the American model, to ensure that civil liberties are properly considered in the formulation of government policy on counter-terrorism. This will be based on David Anderson's existing role as the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.
  • We will restrict the number of public bodies that are able to approach phone and internet companies and ask for communications data. Some bodies will lose their powers to access data altogether while local authorities will be required to go through a single central authority who will make the request on their behalf.
  • Finally, we will publish annual transparency reports, making more information publicly available than ever before on the way that surveillance powers operate.

Tory peer Malcolm Rifkind, who is the chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the proposed law would not "change the status quo" in Britain.

He added that it was critical to push legislation through Parliament quickly because any agreement on new EU measures with "proper safeguards" in place for how that comms data is handled could take months before any agreement is reached by the 28-member-state bloc.

"This bill will simply replicate what currently exists," Rifkind said. "It's something we can all be comfortable about."

He added that the ISC "will want to scrutinise the actual terms of the bill." And Rifkind noted that "it was pretty unusual for all three parties to come together and say 'yes this is not extending the law'."

Labour MP Tom Watson told Today that a "secret deal" had been struck by party leaders. He claimed that the government would "railroad this law through" and described the agreement as a "stitch up." ®

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